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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 2. - 10/15 -
"At seven o'clock, monsieur," was the reply.
Doltaire took out his watch. "It wants three minutes of seven," said he. "What the devil means this business before the stroke o' the hour?" waving a hand towards me.
"We were waiting for the minute, monsieur," was the officer's reply.
A cynical, cutting smile crossed Doltaire's face. "A charitable trick, upon my soul, to fetch a gentleman from a warm dungeon and stand him against an icy wall on a deadly morning to cool his heels as he waits for his hour to die! You'd skin your lion and shoot him afterwards--voila!" All this time he held the watch in his hand.
"You, Gabord," he went on, "you are a man to obey orders--eh?"
Gabord hesitated a moment as if waiting for Lancy to speak, and then said, "I was not in command. When I was called upon I brought him forth."
"Excuses! excuses! You sweated to be rid of your charge."
Gabord's face lowered. "M'sieu' would have been in heaven by this if I had'nt stopped it," he broke out angrily.
Doltaire turned sharply on Lancy. "I thought as much," said he, "and you would have let Gabord share your misdemeanor. Yet your father was a gentleman! If you had shot monsieur before seven, you would have taken the dungeon he left. You must learn, my young provincial, that you are not to supersede France and the King. It is now seven o'clock; you will march your men back into quarters."
Then turning to me, he raised his cap. "You will find your cloak more comfortable, Captain Moray," said he, and he motioned Gabord to hand it to me, as he came forward. "May I breakfast with you?" he added courteously. He yawned a little. "I have not risen so early in years, and I am chilled to the bone. Gabord insists that it is warm in your dungeon; I have a fancy to breakfast there. It will recall my year in the Bastile."
He smiled in a quaint, elusive sort of fashion, and as I drew the cloak about me, I said through chattering teeth, for I had suffered with the brutal cold, "I am glad to have the chance to offer breakfast."
"To me or any one?" he dryly suggested. "Think! by now, had I not come, you might have been in a warmer world than this--indeed, much warmer," he suddenly said, as he stooped, picked up some snow in his bare hand, and clapped it to my cheek, rubbing it with force and swiftness. The cold had nipped it, and this was the way to draw out the frost. His solicitude at the moment was so natural and earnest that it was hard to think he was my enemy.
When he had rubbed awhile, he gave me his own handkerchief to dry my face; and so perfect was his courtesy, it was impossible to do otherwise than meet him as he meant and showed for the moment. He had stepped between me and death, and even an enemy who does that, no matter what the motive, deserves something at your hands.
"Gabord," he said, as we stepped inside the citadel, "we will breakfast at eight o'clock. Meanwhile, I have some duties with our officers here. Till we meet in your dining-hall, then, monsieur," he added to me, and raised his cap.
"You must put up with frugal fare," I answered, bowing.
"If you but furnish locusts," he said gaily, "I will bring the wild honey.... What wonderful hives of bees they have at the Seigneur Duvarney's!" he continued musingly, as if with second thought; "a beautiful manor--a place for pretty birds and honey-bees!"
His eyelids drooped languidly, as was their way when he had said something a little carbolic, as this was to me, because of its hateful suggestion. His words drew nothing from me, not even a look of understanding, and, again bowing, we went our ways.
At the door of the dungeon Gabord held the torch up to my face. His own had a look which came as near to being gentle as was possible to him. Yet he was so ugly that it looked almost ludicrous in him. "Poom!" said he. "A friend at court. More comfits."
"You think Monsieur Doltaire gets comfits, too?" asked I.
He rubbed his cheek with a key. "Aho!" mused he--"aho! M'sieu' Doltaire rises not early for naught."
"THE POINT ENVENOMED TOO!"
I was roused by the opening of the door. Doltaire entered. He advanced towards me with the manner of an admired comrade, and, with no trace of what would mark him as my foe, said, as he sniffed the air:
"Monsieur, I have been selfish. I asked myself to breakfast with you, yet, while I love the new experience, I will deny myself in this. You shall breakfast with me, as you pass to your new lodgings. You must not say no," he added, as though we were in some salon. "I have a sleigh here at the door, and a fellow has already gone to fan my kitchen fires and forage for the table. Come," he went on, "let me help you with your cloak."
He threw my cloak around me, and turned towards the door. I had not spoken a word, for what with weakness, the announcement that I was to have new lodgings, and the sudden change in my affairs, I was like a child walking in its sleep. I could do no more than bow to him and force a smile, which must have told more than aught else of my state, for he stepped to my side and offered me his arm. I drew back from that with thanks, for I felt a quick hatred of myself that I should take favours of the man who had moved for my destruction, and to steal from me my promised wife. Yet it was my duty to live if I could, to escape if that were possible, to use every means to foil my enemies. It was all a game; why should I not accept advances at my enemy's hands, and match dissimulation with dissimulation?
When I refused his arm, he smiled comically, and raised his shoulders in deprecation.
"You forget your dignity, monsieur," I said presently as we walked on, Gabord meeting us and lighting us through the passages; "you voted me a villain, a spy, at my trial!"
"Technically and publicly, you are a spy, a vulgar criminal," he replied; "privately, you are a foolish, blundering gentleman."
"A soldier, also, you will admit, who keeps his compact with his enemy."
"Otherwise we should not breakfast together this morning," he answered. "What difference would it make to this government if our private matter had been dragged in? Technically, you still would have been the spy. But I will say this, monsieur, to me you are a man better worth torture than death."
"Do you ever stop to think of how this may end for you?" I asked quietly.
He seemed pleased with the question. "I have thought it might be interesting," he answered; "else, as I said, you should long ago have left this naughty world. Is it in your mind that we shall cross swords one day?"
"I feel it in my bones," said I, "that I shall kill you."
At that moment we stood at the entrance to the citadel, where a good pair of horses and a sleigh awaited us. We got in, the robes were piled around us, and the horses started off at a long trot. I was muffled to the ears, but I could see how white and beautiful was the world, how the frost glistened in the trees, how the balsams were weighted down with snow, and how snug the chateaux looked with the smoke curling up from their hunched chimneys.
Presently Doltaire replied to my last remark. "Conviction is the executioner of the stupid," said he. "When a man is not great enough to let change and chance guide him, he gets convictions, and dies a fool."
"Conviction has made men and nations strong," I rejoined.
"Has made men and nations asses," he retorted. "The Mohammmedan has conviction, so has the Christian: they die fighting each other, and the philosopher sits by and laughs. Expediency, monsieur, expediency is the real wisdom, the true master of this world. Expediency saved your life to-day; conviction would have sent you to a starry home."
As he spoke a thought came in on me. Here we were in the open world, travelling together, without a guard of any kind. Was it not possible to make a dash for freedom? The idea was put away from me, and yet it was a fresh accent of Doltaire's character that he tempted me in this way. As if he divined what I thought, he said to me--for I made no attempt to answer his question:
"Men of sense never confuse issues or choose the wrong time for their purposes. Foes may have unwritten truces."
There was the matter in a nutshell. He had done nothing carelessly; he was touching off our conflict with flashes of genius. He was the man who had roused in me last night the fiercest passions of my life, and yet this morning he had saved me from death, and, though he was still my sworn enemy, I was about to breakfast with him.
Already the streets of the town were filling; for it was the day before Christmas, and it would be the great market-day of the year. Few noticed us as we sped along down Palace Street and I could not conceive whither we were going, until, passing the Hotel Dieu, I saw in front the Intendance. I remembered the last time I was there, and what had happened then, and a thought flashed through me that perhaps this was another trap. But I put it from me, and soon afterwards Doltaire said:
"I have now a slice of the Intendance for my own, and we shall breakfast like squirrels in a loft."
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